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Friday, 24 January 2020

The sacred power of reason

At the end of this month, British government departments will stop using the word "Brexit", on the grounds that Brexit is over and done with from January 31st. It won't be, of course -- the negotiations and patches will take years, the consequences last for decades -- but we're in Ingsoc territory now. The Ministry of Truth doesn't even want talk of "negotiations" (ignorance is strength) as that would make the British people realize that the hard part is only just beginning.

As I write this, in a deliciously ironic touch given that the Leave campaign repeatedly complained about the "unelected" officials of the EU, the prime minister has been on holiday in the Caribbean for 40% of his total time in office and his special adviser Dominic Cummings (unelected boss of government strategy) is looking to hire uneducated cranks to bypass the UK civil service and carry on Cummings's favourite pastime of playing with fire without knowing that fire is hot. It's a strategy that hasn't been tried since Stalin, so what could possibly go wrong?

Jamie and I are wondering whether we now need to prove our patriotism by issuing a new edition of our last gamebook: Can You Do The Thing Previously Known As Brexit? But maybe that tumbril has already trundled. I do wish we had indulged some of our original plans for the book. In the first draft it opened on a crashing plane. You woke up in the cockpit but had no recollection of how to fly the thing. That established a framing narrative to which you'd return throughout the book, with increasingly surreal (or possibly increasingly lucid) episodes such as:
  • Remainers hiding in priest holes in Elizabethan times. 
  • The mutineers on Pitcairn island having “done away with the experts”. 
  • Conversations with the Number 10 cat.
  • Facts trying to escape across the English Channel in rubber dinghies.
And concluding with the prime minister (ie you, the reader) watching the trial of Orestes from The Eumenides, only in this version the Furies win the vote by 13 to 12 thanks to blatant lies yelled out by the Chorus.

"Too wacky," Jamie said, and at the time I agreed. That was before reality, out of its head on drugs, came charging up from behind, shoved reason into a ditch, and ran off laughing. Now even Armando Iannucci has given up on satire ("politics feels fictional enough") and for all I know Chris Morris might very well be thinking of applying to become one of Cummings's galley slaves. (Spoiler: he'll be disqualified on the grounds of having a university degree and being sane. Too bad, as if he worked in Downing Street he's just the chap to pull off a metaphorical Calò.)

If you'd like to wind back to an earlier era when Brexit was still about how to negotiate a rational relationship with the European Union that would reflect the electorate's narrow preference for withdrawal, you can try your hand at that in the book. Future generations will marvel that logic and facts ever played any part in the process, given the political maelstrom that actually ensued. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to send my CV off to Mekonta.

Also available from Amazon in Italy, Germany, France, Australia, Spain, Netherlands and anywhere that books aren't burned. And talking of the Furies vs Athena:

ADDENDUM (January 31): Professor Chris Grey has written a summary of how we got to this point. Only of historical interest now, at least until Tim Harford turns it all into one of his Cautionary Tales in 10 or 15 years' time...


  1. Facebook could definitely do with some 'Eumenidifcation' (to coin a phrase); more graciousness, less self-righteous fury.
    The Goddess A is my chosen patron, so I'm always happy to see her invoked. I once poured a libation to her on the Acropolis, but that's another story...

    1. A friend of mine visited the Acropolis in the '70s and came back with a piece of it. As you can imagine, I gave him an earful.

    2. Athena certainly knows how to deal with such vandals, Dave; in the end they all lose their Marbles !

  2. Oh dear, Dave. Still coming to terms with democracy are you?

    Perhaps you should get out of your London echo chamber and find out why people aren't as enamoured with the EU as you are. You know, travel the country a bit, listen to some other viewpoints.

    Or even look into the history of Euroscepticism and how it used to be the Left's approach to Europe, not just the Right's. While you're at it you could look up EU protectionism, corruption and its impoverishment of Africa, just for starters.

    1. Not just London, Sanj. Also Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Brighton, Oxford, Leeds, Norwich. And another "echo chamber" is whether you talk to under-45s or over-45s. But anyway that's not what the post is about.

      Everyone who voted in 2016 knew that planning for Brexit would not be simple. Gove said we'd negotiate for several years before triggering Article 50. Johnson said we'd continue to have access to the single market. Even Arron Banks said, "The Norway option looks best for the UK."

      So voters had a right to expect that Brexit would be implemented sensibly, in the best interests of the British people and to reflect the views of a narrowly divided electorate. And so it could have been. I wouldn't expect you to have read our book, but the reason many Leave supporters as well as Remain supporters have liked it is because it plays fair. You can negotiate different forms of Brexit, each with ups and downs.

      But instead here we are with incompetents and opportunists, many of whom by their own admission don't even know what a customs union is, rushing through a form of Brexit that will impoverish those rural areas just as much as the Remain-voting cities. And they're doing that simply because of the internal politics of the Conservative party and the career strategy of Boris Johnson, which is a long way short of what all voters were promised four years ago.

      Lastly, I love how the issue of Brexit has got people fretting about Africa who probably aren't even in favour of Britain's foreign aid expenditure. I certainly don't claim the EU is ideal as it is, but a lot of that stuff is on a par with the "facts" that get spread around by climate change deniers:

    2. Of course Dave has come to terms with Democracy. He fully understands how voting works:

      And soon enough, so will the rest of you.

    3. Gosh, John, that's a long way from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal :-)

    4. It's Warren Ellis, what did you expect? It's profane but almost terrifyingly prescient in terms political.

    5. You express it perfectly DM; the way the leave campaign was run, so many contradictory promises were made that in the end there were 18 million different forms of Brexit voted for, each one a pick and mix of each leave voter's favourite fabrications, with the hard truths left out.

      Of course only one version of Remain was ever put forward...

    6. 'Also Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Brighton, Oxford, Leeds, Norwich.' Ah yes, the cities. The only places that matter, eh? Nonetheless, we've now had a referendum, two general elections and a European election and the electorate have voted in favour of Brexit-supporting parties every time, despite the waves of absurd Project Fear propaganda they were subjected to (including that in Government issued leaflets prior to the referendum).

      The success of Brexit will be determined in the long term, and it doesn't just belong to the Tories. Johnson's majority has been leant to him by voters as a response to the idiocy of the opposition MPs who attempted to frustrate a democratic vote.

      'Lastly, I love how the issue of Brexit has got people fretting about Africa who probably aren't even in favour of Britain's foreign aid expenditure.'

      Well, this is just another piece of Remainer bigotry, so often vented in the past three and a half years: 'You voted Brexit, so you can't possibly care about Africa or other countries anyway - I mean you must be right wing and a xenophobe/racist, right?' None of those, actually, so I'll thank you not to make snide generalisations. Again, get of your echo chamber.

      As I said, Euroscepticism was once the main position of Britain's Left. The collapse of the 'red wall' was because Labour no longer represents the views of most working people upon the EU (nor many other issues).

      The EU will remain on its current course, which is that of further federalism, restrictions and contempt for national sovereignty (the only form of governance under which truly democratic accountability has ever been possible). Guy Verhofstadt's speech during the recent Brexit debate blamed Brexit on too many EU opt outs and concessions. Because, of course, the problem with the EU is that it's too flexible and accommodating, eh?

    7. Now that the current government has defined Brexit as the extremely hard variant that looks certain to happen, we can't of course know how the voters in 2016 would have responded to that, but for those interested in whether there are Remain/Leave "echo chambers" this map is useful -- in particular the one on the right, with especial reference to regions that had > 70% support for either Leave or Remain.

  3. When I come to a blog devoted to a wonderful old Gamebook series from the '90s, I desperately hope that it's filled with out-of-touch, off-topic political moralising. Hopefully the next blog entry will consist of a 10,000 word analogy highlighting the remarkable similarities between post-Brexit Britain and the equally villainous City of the Runes of Doom. (I can hardly tell the difference!) That would be really edifying and exactly the kind of content I'm seeking when I visit an online journal about fantasy gamebooks.

    1. Keep looking, Guida. I'm sure there's got to be a Fighting Fantasy or Lone Wolf blog out there that's got what you're looking for.

    2. It'll be interesting if Scotland to have a "Scexit" from the "Not-quite-as United Kingdom" in order to remain in the EU.

    3. I think that's quite a likely outcome, and also possibly that Northern Ireland will reintegrate with the rest of Eire -- though there are some hurdles to clear in that case.

      Given that Brexit was effectively an English nationalist project (see the PNG I linked to above) it's a shame that rural England couldn't simply have quit the UK. That way the half of us who wanted to stay in the EU would have done so and the other half could've gone their own way. Border checks at Watford? That would have been less of a pain than the whole thing is actually going to cause, I suspect.

    4. Surely you'd need that embarrassingly backwards peasant class for subsistence farming when the post-Brexit economy inevitably collapses, Dave? I'm sure they'd even work for free once the Illuminated Ones living in the cities have smugly explained to them how Wrong and Stupid their vote was.